Tour Aotearoa: The Final Push
Our Tour Aotearoa was coming to an end. We were just 2 days away from completing it. This was the final push. We only had 360km to go. Today’s ride was from Lake Hawea to Queenstown. Just a mere 115km. But within that, we’d have the opportunity to visit plenty of cafés. And that we did. We’d toyed with the idea of smashing it to Cardrona the day before, and then getting up early and catching the 8:30 am Queenstown to Walter Peak. That would have made our journey 15 days.
The idea of taking time out and only riding 115km was the right thing to do. We got up at the same time we’d been getting up throughout the rest of the journey. Fortunately, Lake Hawea’s café was open. We manage to score a coffee and scone. Then rode the attractive trail to Albert Town, before having another coffee shop. We’d covered a total of 15km. A great café to km ratio. That ratio would be the theme of the day. In all, we managed 5 in 115km. Our best ratio over the last 15 days. Sometimes the Tour Aotearoa has to be about something else other than cycling. Today was one of those days.
The ride between Albert Town and Wanaka takes you alongside the lake. The colour of the water amazing, and seeing so many people using this trail is very pleasing. Wanaka is a cool little ski town, that’s grown up over the last few years. Let’s hope that it doesn’t make the same mistakes as Queenstown. Where all of the money made from tourism isn’t then ploughed back into local infrastructure like cycle lanes, bike racks, etc. Given that most people are there for the outdoors lifestyle, they do sweet FA to facilitate it.
Following on from Wanaka we rode up to Cardrona, or Bradrona as some like to call it. The historic tavern is a great place to stop and grab a beer. We did, would have been rude not to, especially given the pace were cruising. From Cardrona, you climb the Crown Range. A great vista awaits. Then you have an absolutely awesome descent on some of the smoothest seals of the whole route. It’s pretty easy to get held up by cars. Funny how they never give way, yet expect us to!
Dropping down into Arrowtown you take a right turn down some weird track. It’s a cross between a four-wheel-drive track and a scary single track. Whatever it is, it’s a pretty fun ride. And the track leads you to the cutesy settlement of Arrowtown. A historic gold mining village from the 1860s. A mix of Chinese and European miners settled here, with a mix of fortunes. We managed to explore it a little, and oh, we grabbed some food and drinks.
The next part of the journey to Queenstown is possibly the dullest and dangerous of the whole route. It’s really quite dull. There’s very little point in it. And given that you’re so close to finishing, it’s really disappointing. Queenstown, to me, is a shithole. Urban planning disaster. The ‘what not to do with a tourism boom’.
Queenstown to Bluff. What a day, both good and bad. We arrived at Vudu for breakfast. Then when it was time, we headed for the pier. We’d booked the workers ferry to Walter Peak. Usually this ferry is full of workers, with the occasional free seat. These day’s, it’s pretty much empty. There are some benefits of Covid, the empty boat and empty roads. On the pier we yet again met Tim and Kevin. Riders that we’d been seeing more of ever since Hokitika. A couple of guys who didn’t know each other before the TA, and have become riding companions. You’d have never guessed they didn’t know each other before. They were like an old married couple, and bloody good value.
So we boarded the ferry and headed across the lake. It’s only about a 20 minute ride. So as soon as we reached shore, we went on our merry way. We all bid each other farewell, and joked we’d see each other in Bluff. Not long after starting we were separated. The gravel was good, but up ahead you could see black clouds rolling into the valley. It wasn’t long before the rain started. And with that rain came wind. For 230 km we had driving rain and a headwind. The day before, Hayden had a strong tailwind and smoked it all the way to Bluff at 28 kph on a mountain bike. We were struggling to do 20 kph. Fucking brutal. And that’s the way it would remain until we got within a km of Bluff.
We arrived in Mossburn after the gravel section. I managed to find Neil at the Braken Hall café. Such a great place. It served as a post office, café, and clothes and souvenir shop. I was hungry, tired and soaked. I ordered a venison pie, toasted sandwich, and couple of coffees. The pie arrived. Oh my god, it was the best pie I’ve had the fortune of eating. Everything about it was perfect. The pastry delicate, and meat superbly cooked. After complimenting the woman who served us, I was reliably informed that Mossburn is the home of venison. And rightly so.
Whilst eating lunch Neil suggested looking for accommodation. There I was thinking, after all the wind and rain we’d been riding in, that we may call the day early and stop at Winton. Then Neil suggested that we book a hotel in Bluff. Shit! I agreed nervously. I knew as soon as he had booked it, we were all in. He spoke to the proprietor and explained that we may be late. The proprietor had said he could only stay open as late as 10 pm. We now had a deadline. We had to finish.
Just as we were just about to leave, Neil asked one of the women in the café as to the weather forecast. Given they were farmers wives, we thought they’d be in the know. She took Neil to the computer and showed him that the wind would drop and we’d seen the last of the rain. Then we stepped outside and it pissed down. It actually pissed down for the next 100 km. Oh, and that wind never died, it just increased. What an absolutely brutal way to start part 2 of the day.
We did manage to pick up some food on the way. Again, just as the shop was closing. For the next 80km, we ticked along, taking the wrong turn after the wrong turn. Eventually, we made it to Invercargill. We grabbed some more food, as the hotel wouldn’t be able to offer us any dinner, and there were no places open in bluff after 9. What the fuck!
So we passed Invercargill at dusk. We were closer than ever, with only 30 km to go. Half of which was on a gravel trail. Just as we rounded the last corner of the gravel, Neil crashed. His front wheel dropped off the inside edge of a tight right-hander. The mix of dusk, wearing photochromic glasses, and the flash of a front light, made navigating the tight turn hard. As hard as he crashed. He went down, tore his Gore-Tex shake dry jacket, and broke some ribs. It looked nasty.
After getting his breath back, Neil was back on his bike. “Let’s get this done. Let’s finish this thing.” Said Neil. OK, so we rode to the finish line. The last kilometre we finally had a tail wind. My god, we’d done it. We’d travelled 3000km in 16 days. You beauty. I asked Neil to take a photo of me, to which he obliged. I asked if he wanted one. He declined, and we cycled back to the hotel. We checked in, sat down with a cup of coffee, and reflected. We didn’t really speak. A sense of anticlimax filled the room. Our journey was done and dusted.
The next day
The next morning we got up to see where Gillian, Tim, and Kevin were. We wondered whether they’d made it. Gillian’s tracker said she was in Invercargilll. We wondered whether she was ok. I texted her, and she replied almost immediately. Not only had she made it to Bluff, but she’s also camped out, too. What a legend. Tough as.
We caught up with Tim and Kevin whilst having breakfast. They were bloody solid. Both on heavy mountain bikes and smashing it out of the park. We also checked on Craig, and wondered whether he’d push and try to make it to Bluff, but was having too much fun in Central Otago.
I’d like to thank everyone that I rode with, thank you. Also, to everyone that has ridden the TA, you rock. And to anyone wondering if they should, hell yes. You can do it. But, do it at your own pace. Create your own memories, and tell your own stories. This is a personal journey, but can also be very social. A big thanks to Neil for dragging my sorry arse all the way. For waiting for me. For being an awesome rider, and an even better human. Also, I’d like to thank my wife and daughter.
After I got home, I tried to go for a ride with the group I ride with. Would you believe it, the tendinitis in my right knee had gone, and now I had it in my left knee. I’ve not been able to ride since. It’s just far too painful. 7 weeks after completing the TA, I’m still unable to ride. The holiday blues have definitely struck me down. Riding is my medicine. I feel resentful knowing those that can ride don’t, and I want to, and can’t. The weather has been amazing, there’s no reason not to ride. I can’t even bring myself to look at Strava. I’m in a funk!